BLACKFORD The Great Animal Orchestra SAINT-SAËNS Carnival of the Animals
The Great Animal Orchestra was premiered this summer at the Cheltenham Festival and this recording was made a few days later. In his new, exotic work, Richard Blackford introduces the sounds of wildlife, as collected and recorded by Bernie Krause to begin each movement. You may recall that Blackford employed a similar ploy in his cantata Voices in Exile (7/14) by having the actuality of the dispossesed woven into the fabric of the work. The melange of the orchestra with sounds from the animal kingdom works in favour of The Great Animal Orchestra where the two coexist without hiatus.
The first movement, a swift allegro, opens in the Borneo rain forest, with birdsong and a pair of gibbons. A Scherzo of chattering frogs and woodpecker follows, then an elegy of wailing beavers. A march of elephants leads into ‘The Song of the American Musician Wren’. Blackford is a dab hand with his orchestral palette. His scoring is colourful and he fashions a suite in symphonic outline with an internal structure to each movement. The elegy comes from the heart, while the movement to the American wren is a joyous paean to nature, with the pentatonic scale running through it to embrace the wide outdoors. One caveat of concern is the parallel to characters in other musical works – Bernstein’s Jets and Sharks in Blackford’s second-movement ‘Scherzo and Riffs’, Mussorgsky’s ‘Bydło’ in the fourth-movement march.
The coupling is Blackford’s orchestration of Carnival of the Animals. Not even the expert playing of the BBC NOW can reconcile me to it – a turkey if ever there was one. Cheers though for The Great Animal Orchestra – it’s an entertaining piece which succeeds in bringing the outdoors indoors, to paraphrase a remark in the accompanying interview on the CD.